Secretary of State oral statement on Lucy Letby statutory inquiry

Today (4 September), the Health and Social Care Sectary delivered an oral statement in the House of Commons to update on the Lucy Letby statutory inquiry

The Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP

Speaking in the House, the Health and Social Care Secretary, Steve Barclay said:

I would like to make a statement on the inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the crimes of Lucy Letby.

As the whole House is aware, on 18 August, Letby was convicted of the murder of seven babies and the attempted murders of six others. Crimes she committed while working as a neonatal nurse at the Countess of Chester Hospital between June 2015 and June 2016.

As Mr Justice Goss said as he sentenced her to 14 whole life orders, this was a “cruel, calculated, and cynical campaign of child murder”, and a “gross breach of the trust all citizens place in those who work in the medical and caring professions.”

I think the whole House will agree it’s right that she spends the rest of her life behind bars.

I cannot begin to imagine the hurt and suffering these families went through. And I know from my conversations with them last week, the trial brought these emotions back to the surface. And concerningly they were exacerbated by the fact the families discovered new information about events concerning their children during the course of the trial.

Losing a child is the greatest sorrow any parent can experience. I’m sure the victims’ families have been in the thoughts and prayers of members across the House, as they have been in mine.

We have a duty to get them the answers they deserve, to hold people to account, and to make sure lessons are learned.

That’s why on the day of conviction I ordered an independent inquiry into events at the Countess of Chester Hospital, making clear the victims’ families would shape this.

I arranged with the police liaison officer to meet these families at the earliest possible opportunity to discuss with them the options for the form the inquiry should take.

And it was clear their wishes were for a statutory inquiry with the power to compel witnesses to give evidence under oath.

And that’s why I am confirming this to the House today.

This inquiry will examine the case’s wider circumstances, including the Trust’s response to clinicians who raised the alarm, and the conduct of the wider NHS and its regulators.

And I can confirm to the House that Lady Justice Thirlwall will lead this inquiry.

She is one of the country’s most senior judges, currently sitting in the Court of Appeal, and with many years of experience as a senior judge and a senior barrister before that.

Before making this statement, I informed the victims’ families of her appointment.

Which was made following conversations with the Lord Chief Justice, the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney General.

I have raised with Lady Justice Thirlwall that the families should work with her to shape the Terms of Reference. We hope to finalise these in the next couple of weeks, so the inquiry can start the consultation as soon as possible.

I have also discussed with Lady Justice Thirlwall the families’ desire for the inquiry to take place in phases, so it provides answers to vital questions as soon as possible.

I will update the House when these Terms of Reference are agreed and continue to engage with the families.

Today, Mr Speaker, I would also like to update the House on actions already taken to improve patient safety and identify warning signs more quickly, as well as action already underway to strengthen this further.

First, in 2018, NHS England appointed Dr Aidan Fowler as the first National Director of Patient Safety.

He worked with the NHS to publish their first Patient Safety Strategy in 2019, creating several national programmes.

Including requiring NHS organisations to employ dedicated patient safety specialists. Ensuring all staff receive robust patient safety training. And using data, to quickly recognise risks to patient safety.

Last summer, to enhance patient safety further, I appointed Dr Henrietta Hughes, a practising GP, as England’s first Patient Safety Commissioner for medicines and medical devices.

Dr Hughes brings leaders together to amplify patients’ concerns throughout the health system.

Second, in 2019 the NHS began introducing Medical Examiners across England and Wales to independently scrutinise deaths not investigated by a coroner.

These senior doctors also reach out to bereaved families and find out if they have any concerns.

All acute trusts have appointed Medical Examiners, who now scrutinise hospital deaths, and raise any concerns they have with the appropriate authorities.

Third, in 2016, the NHS introduced Freedom to Speak Up Guardians to assist staff that want to speak up about their concerns. More than 900 local Guardians now cover every NHS Trust.

Fourth, in 2018 Tom Kark KC was commissioned to make recommendations on the Fit and Proper Person Test for NHS Board Members.

NHS England incorporated his review findings into the Fit and Proper Person Test Framework published last month.

This introduces additional background checks, consistent collection of Director’s data, and a standardised reference system. Preventing board members unfit to lead from moving between organisations.

And finally, turning to maternity care.

In 2018, NHS England launched the Maternity Safety Support Programme to ensure underperforming Trusts receive assistance before serious issues arise.

Also, since 2018, the Government has funded the National Perinatal Mortality Review Tool, which supports Trusts and parents to understand why a baby has died and whether any lessons can be learnt to save lives in the future.

Furthermore, the Government introduced the Maternity Investigations Programme through Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, which investigates maternity safety incidents and provides reports to Trusts and families.

And, in 2020, NHS England’s Get it Right First Time programme expanded its cover to neonatal services. They reviewed England’s neonatal services using detailed data and gave Trusts individual improvement plans which they’re working towards.

Indeed, professor Tim Briggs, who leads the NHS Get it Right First Time Programme, has confirmed that all neonatal units have been reviewed by his programme since 2021.

Let me now turn, Mr Speaker, to our forward-facing work.

We have already committed to moving Medical Examiners to a statutory basis and will table secondary legislation on this shortly.

This will ensure deaths not reviewed by a coroner are investigated in all medical settings, particular extending coverage in primary care.

And this will enter into force in April.

Second, on the Kark Review.

At the time, the NHS actively considered Kark’s recommendation 5 on disbarring senior managers, taking the view that introducing the wider changes he recommended in his review mitigated the need to accept this specific recommendation on disbarring.

This point was also considered further by the Messenger Review.

In light of evidence from Chester, and ongoing variation in performance across Trusts, I have asked NHS England to work with my department to revisit this.

They will do so alongside the actions recommended by General Sir Gordon Messenger’s review of leadership, on which the Government accepted all 7 recommendations from the report dated June last year.

This will ensure the right standards, support and training are in place for the public to have confidence that NHS Boards have the skills and experience needed to provide safe, quality care.

Third, by January all trusts will have adopted a strengthened Freedom to Speak up Policy.

This national model policy will bring consistency to freedom to speak up across organisations providing NHS services, supporting staff to feel more confident to speak up and raise any concerns.

I have asked NHS England to review the guidance that permits Board Members to be Freedom to Speak Up Guardians, to ensure these roles provide independent challenge to boards.

Fourth, the Get it Right First Time Programme team will launch a centralised and regularly updated dataset to monitor the safety and quality of national neonatal services.

Finally, we are exploring introducing Martha’s Rule to the UK.

Martha’s Rule would be similar to Queensland’s system, called Ryan’s Rule.

It’s a three-step process that allows patients or their families to request a clinical review of their case from a doctor or nurse if their condition is deteriorating or not improving as expected.

Ryan’s Rule has saved lives in Queensland, and I’ve asked my department and the NHS to look into whether similar measures could improve patient safety here in the UK.

I also want to take the first opportunity of the return of the House to provide an update on the Essex statutory inquiry.

In June, I told the House the inquiry into NHS mental health inpatient facilities across Essex would move forwards on a statutory footing.

And today, I can announce Baroness Lampard, who led the Department of Health’s inquiry into the crimes of Jimmy Saville, has agreed to chair the statutory inquiry.

I know Baroness Kate Lampard will wish to engage with members of this House and the families impacted, and following their input I will update the House on the Terms of Reference at the earliest opportunity.

Mr Speaker, the crimes Lucy Letby committed are some of the very worst the United Kingdom has witnessed.

I know that nothing can come close to righting the wrongs of the past, but I hope that Lady Justice Thirlwall’s inquiry will go at least some way towards giving the victims’ families the answers they deserve.

My department and I are committed to putting in place robust safeguards to protect patient safety, and to make sure the lessons from this horrendous case are fully learned.

I commend this statement to the House.

Department of Health and Social Care
NHS England
The Rt Hon Steve Barclay MP